All-Mail Voting Increases Turnout and Saves Money in Hawaii Special Election

All-Mail Voting Increases Turnout and Saves Money in Hawaii Special Election

Thursday, May 27, 2010




All-Mail Voting Increases Turnout and Saves Money in Hawaii Special Election

Results from Hawaii's recent all-mail special election for Congress are in--and the clear winner was the mail voting system that dramatically increased turnout and saved the state sorely needed money. 

After two costly special elections in 2002, state lawmakers passed a law allowing an all-mail voting system under the extraordinary circumstances requiring a special election.  Hawaii has actually held two mail-only special elections since the law’s enactment, in order to fill mid-term vacancies on the Honolulu City Council — turnout was already significantly higher than a similar City Council special election held in 2002.  But this month’s embittered special election for the 1st Congressional District involved about six times as many voters as either of last year’s races, and was the first congressional race in the state to be decided by an all-mail system.

Voters were required to mail ballots by a May 22 deadline and had the option of using City Hall as an absentee polling place for 10 days to allow voters the option of walk-in voting, although no polling places were open on the actual Election Day of May 22.  The result? 

  • Higher Turnout:  More than 170,000 ballots out of 317,000 mailed were returned.  The 54 percent turnout rate was significantly higher than the 13.3 percent turnout rate for the 2003 Congressional special election in Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District.  In fact, this year’s turnout even surpassed 2009’s all-mail special elections, which attracted 41 and 45 percent of voters respectively.
  • Saved Money:  While a traditional election would have cost an estimated $1.2 million, the mail-in election cost only $925,000 -- a nice boon for a state election system jeopardized by lack of funds
  • Simpler Logistics:  Not only did voting by mail prove to be less expensive, but it was also logistically easier than having to contend with polling places.  As Tim Scott, elections director of Oregon’s Multnomah County, stated, “You don’t have to worry about a janitor not showing up to unlock a school building.”  And Glen Takahashi, Honolulu Elections Administrator said, “You don’t have to line up all the logistics — is this facility available?  Can I train, recruit and staff the number of polling places required?”
  • Decreased Value of Last-Minute Negative Campaigning:  Commonplace campaign tactics funded by corporate interests and large donors are also watered down because ballots can be cast over a three week period.  By the time eventual-winner Charles Djou (R) had released a TV ad attacking challenger Ed Case (D) in the final weekend before May 22, two-thirds of likely voters had already mailed back their ballots.  Candidates had to revise their tactics, and there was less incentive to be negative — Ed Case’s strategy peaked as voters were receiving their ballots, while Colleen Hanabusa (D) focused on driving voter turnout.

Democratic Party of Hawaii Chairman Dante Carpenter praised the election for being “expeditious” and “less costly,” stating that mail-in elections are “a coming thing.”  Though Hawaii is slated to have traditional polling places for this year’s general election, the success of its mail-in system offers a great lesson in how states can, easily and cheaply, further democracy.

Though 28 states currently allow any voter to choose a mail-in absentee ballot, states can go one step further and implement an all-mail voting system.  Not only are vote-by-mail contests cheaper to pull off, more efficient, and less of a logistical challenge, but as Oregon and now Hawaii have seen, mail-in elections help restore the democratic process by increasing voter turnout and lessening the impact of expensive tactics in the final days before an election.

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Arizona "Copycat" Anti-Immigrant Bill Killed in Rhode Island Without a Hearing

Immigrant and workers' rights advocates celebrated a victory in Rhode Island this week with the announcement that State Rep. Peter Palumbo's anti-immigrant bill, closely based on Arizona's widely criticized SB 1070, would not get a hearing.  Palumbo, a conservative Democrat from Cranston, a community with many immigrant residents, was planning on holding a hearing on his bill this week.  Rhode Island was the fourth state to introduce legislation based upon Arizona's anti-immigrant SB 1070 , the nation's most sweeping anti-immigrant law to date, which Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed at the end of April.  Legislators in 18 states have announced they will introduce anti-immigrant legislation similar to the recently-passed law in Arizona, but introduction does not guarantee passage or committee consideration.  Few states are likely to pass such a bill this year as most legislatures have already adjourned, and will reconvene in early 2011.

Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon Fox came out in opposition to Palumbo's bill, and decided to table it -- the proposal was drafted roughly ten days ago, just before the end of the state's legislative session.  Fox noted enforcing immigration laws is a federal matter, and his announcement late Monday night came on the heels of large community mobilizations on the House of Representative floor against Palumbo and his bill. Though Fox denied his decision was informed by immigrant advocates mobilizing against the bill,  his decision does seem linked to widespread protests against the bill.

As we explained in greater detail in previous Dispatches, Arizona's recent and misguided  anti-immigrant  law actively encourages racial profiling by requiring  all state and local police officers to demand proof of immigration status from anyone they feel exhibits 'reasonable suspicion' of being undocumented.  SB 1070 also makes it state crime to not have proof of legal immigration status at hand at all times.

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By: ENZO PASTORE          

Federal Health Reform Benefits for Early Retirees Begins on June 1st

One of the immediate benefits of the Affordable Care Act is the Early Retiree Reinsurance Program.  Beginning June 1, 2010, this new reinsurance reimbursement program is available to group health plan sponsors who provide medical coverage to early retirees and their spouses, surviving spouses and dependents.

Program Goal:  Many Americans who retire without employer-sponsored insurance and before they become Medicare eligible are faced with the possibility of seeing their retirement savings disappear because of unaffordable, exorbitant rates in the individual insurance market.  The goal of this temporary program is to provide financial assistance to employers to help them maintain the coverage they offer for their early retirees.  Early retirees are individuals age 55 and older who are not yet eligible for Medicare and who are enrolled in health benefits under the employer-sponsored plan.

Employers will be reimbursed for the cost of providing certain health benefits, including medical, surgical, hospital, and prescription drug benefits.  This will encourage employers to continue to provide health coverage to early retirees until the state health exchanges and federal subsidies for health coverage are implemented in January 1, 2014.

State Governments Are Eligible:  Entities who are eligible to participate in the reinsurance program can be private employers, state or local governments, employee organizations, voluntary beneficiary associations or a multi-employer plan that already offers health benefits to their retirees.  Both self-funded and insured plans are permitted to apply.

To receive assistance, plans must have their applications approved and certified by HHS.  A number of requirements must be met in order to participate in the reinsurance program.  One such requirement is that the plan sponsor must have in place programs and procedures that have or have the potential to generate cost savings for participants with chronic and high-cost conditions. Chronic and high cost conditions are defined as a condition for which $15,000 or more in applicable claims are likely to be incurred during a plan year by one participant.

Reimbursement:  Plan sponsors must first submit an application to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in order to become certified to participate in the reimbursement program.  Once a sponsor is certified to participate in the program, the claims submitted for reimbursement must be between $15,000 and $90,000 per year (determined on a per-participant basis).  The partial reimbursements are limited to 80 percent of the costs attributable to claims that exceed $15,000.

Maintenance of Effort:  While employers can use the savings to either reduce their own health care costs, provide premium relief to their workers and families or a combination of both, one important caveat of the program is a maintenance of effort requirement.  This means participating sponsors must agree to maintain funding levels to support their applicable plan or plans.  The federal statute requires that funds dispersed under the reinsurance program cannot be used as general revenue.  The sponsors will need to indicate how the funds they receive will be applied to maintain their level of effort in supporting the plan.

With a total allocation of $5 billion, the program will end January 1, 2014, when early retirees become eligible to choose their insurance coverage through state health insurance exchanges.

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Private Prison Firm Exploiting Broken Immigration System

Who benefits from hyping criminal enforcement as the solution to the immigration issue? 

As a Service and Employees International Union (SEIU) campaign highlights, one key player profiting off the nation's broken immigration system is the private prison firm, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).  CCA operates and profits significantly from private prisons across the country, many of which house immigrants in detention, a kind of legal limbo in which immigrants are imprisoned while their cases are being considered, or who are in the process of being deported.  Roughly 40 percent of CCA's profits stem from operating jails that house immigrants.  In fact, the corporation earned over $1.7 billion in revenue in 2009 alone -- much of it from contracts with the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the US Marshals Office, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons to cope with the influx of nonviolent immigrants in the nation's prison system.  CCA has also been a long-time funder of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and member of its Private Sector Executive Committee, which advocates on behalf of CCA to push prison privatization as a model for states.

While most believe prisons are operated by state or federal governments, they are increasingly privatized.  As the number of immigration prosecutions continue to skyrocket and comprehensive immigration reform languishes in Washington, DC, this makes the business of operating prisons all the more lucrative for private firms.  According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), immigration prosecutions reached record levels in federal fiscal year 2009.  The Department of Homeland Security initiated 67,994 immigration prosecutions that year alone, a 459 percent increase from 2000 and a 973 percent increase from 1990.

Filling Up Prisons with Non-Violent Immigrants:  In addition, federal immigration authorities are increasingly targeting nonviolent immigrants, whose only offense is attempting to unlawfully cross the border, via efforts such as Operation Streamline, which focuses on apprehending nonviolent border-crossers.  According to a May 2010 study by the Warren Institute at the University of California, Berkeley Law School, projects such as Operation Streamline that focus on immigrants who haven't committed any crime in the US divert precious federal resources from apprehending drug cartels and human traffickers that frequently operate with impunity along stretches of the US-Mexico border and are responsible for much of the violence in the region.  These record numbers of nonviolent immigrants are, in turn, filling jails and immigration detention centers to capacity: contributing to growing costs to states and higher profits for private prison companies like CCA.

The Failures of Prison Privatization:  Both federal and state governments have utilized private firms to operate prisons, despite evidence of systematic failures. Privatization only exacerbates the challenges faced by states, communities, and families dealing with the broken immigration system.  For example, the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy finds that there is no compelling evidence that prison privatization has led to savings, while the Private Corrections Institute analyzes several issues with privatization, which include “major riots, sex abuse scandals”¦ improper billing by private prison companies”¦ employment law violations, higher employer turnover rates, increased levels of prisoner-on-prisoner and prisoner-on-staff violence, lack of transparency and public accountability, and higher recidivism rates for inmates released from privately-operated prisons.”

When privatization involves prisons and detention centers, the profiteering comes at the expense of constitutional safeguards, democratic oversight, and public trust.  In this case, it also undermines legislative efforts to promote progressive immigration reform.  Lawmakers should take action to prevent such debacles from occurring by either halting failed privatization schemes. For example, Indiana Rep. Gail Riecken's introduced a bill to end privatization of social services in her state.  Legislators can also consider requiring augmented transparency of state contracting, much like initiatives in Alabama,  Hawaii, and Vermont.

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Research Roundup

Estimated Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act on Employment and Economic Output from January 2010 Through March 2010 - This Congressional Budget Office report finds that Recovery Act spending raised the level of real (inflation-adjusted) gross domestic product (GDP) by up to 4.2 percent, lowered the unemployment rate by between 0.7 percentage points and 1.5 percentage points, increased the number of people employed by between 1.2 million and 2.8 million, and increased the number of full-time-equivalent jobs by 1.8 million to 4.1 million compared with what those amounts would have been otherwise.

The State of Metropolitan America - This Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program report portrays the demographic and social trends shaping the nation’s essential economic and societal units -- its large metropolitan areas.  It highlights the rise in exurban sprawl at the same time new patterns of density are also rising in urban and suburban areas, the rising diversity of the population, the aging of the population, the effects of uneven higher education attainment, and income polarization across different metropolitan areas.

America’s Future: Latino Child Well-Being in Numbers and Trends - This National Council of La Raza (NCLR) data book offers 25 indicators of child well-being for Latino children across the nation.  The data and trends clearly show that Latino children face multiple obstacles and inequalities that impede them from enjoying a successful adulthood.

Health Care Implementation and Reform:

  • Health Care Reform and the Class Act - This brief by the Kaiser Family Foundation explains the functions and long-term costs savings to state Medicaid programs from the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports program (CLASS Act) program in the federal health reform law.  When individuals begin receiving CLASS long-term care benefits after 2017, those benefits will be used to partially offset the costs to the states of Medicaid.
  • Optimizing Medicaid Enrollment: Perspectives on Strengthening Medicaid’s Reach Under Health Care Reform - The Kaiser Family Foundation uses interviews with Medicaid program directors and other experts to highlight how strengthening enrollment procedures can recast Medicaid as an affordable program for working people and families and fulfill the reform’s coverage goals.
  • Federal Government Will Pick Up Nearly All Costs of Health Reform's Medicaid Expansion - Analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains why the Medicaid expansion included in health reform is a good deal for states.  In its first five years, the expansion will add a mere 1.25 percent to what states were already projected to spend on Medicaid over the same period.  The huge benefit of this very modest price tag will provide health coverage to 16 million more low-income adults and children.  Plus, expanding health coverage will help states reduce spending on other services for the uninsured.
  • New Citizenship Documentation Option for Medicaid and CHIP Is Up and Running -  States using a new data matching system to verify eligibility for benefits report that this option simplifies enrollment, produces significant administrative savings, and may help states coordinate eligibility determinations for Medicaid, CHIP, and the new subsidies, according to this Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report.  This is encouraging news, since the same data matching system will be used for the new health care exchanges.
  • Brand Name Drug Prices Continue to Climb Despite Low General Inflation Rate - The AARP finds that average prices for brand name drugs rose far faster than prices for other consumer goods during the last year, while prices for generic drugs fell during the same time period. 
  • Healthy Students Are Better Students: Health Reform Bill Gives a Boost to School-Based Health Centers - One important part of the federal health reform law will provide more funding for health services at school, according to this Center for American Progress report.  These school-based health centers are typically located in medically underserved communities -- almost a third in rural areas -- so this will enhance a key component of promoting the "community school" concept of addressing non-academic needs in schools.

Out of the Shadows: Massachusetts Quasi-Public Agencies and the Need for Budget Transparency - A majority of Massachusetts quasi-public agencies do not provide the public with complete information about their budgets or finances, even though they perform vital state functions, such as operating bus and rail systems, building schools, and delivering drinking water, according to this report by MASSPIRG.  MASSPIRG finds, "the quasi-public agencies represent almost one-third additional government activity that is exempt from even limited normal transparency and oversight rules."  The group recommends budget transparency as a means to promote efficiency and prevent potential abuse and corruption.

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All-Mail Voting Increases Turnout and Saves Money in Hawaii Special Election

Progressive States Network - Permanent Vote by Mail Option Approved in First State East of Mississippi
Progressive States Network - Voting by Mail and Before Election Day: States Open Multiple Paths to the Ballot Box
Common Cause - What We Know About Vote by Mail Elections and How to Conduct Them Well

Arizona "Copycat" Anti-Immigrant Bill Killed in Rhode Island Without a Hearing

Immigration Policy Center: The Legal Challenges and Economic Realities of Arizona's SB 1070
Progressive States Network - Arizona and the Nation: A Failing State Versus Positive Approaches to Immigrant Integration
Progressive States Network - Arizona Risks Jeopardizing its Economic Future As it Contemplates Passing Anti-Immigrant Law

Federal Health Reform Benefits for Early Retirees Begins on June 1st

The White House - Fact Sheet: Early Benefits from the Affordable Care Act of 2010: Reinsurance Program for Early Retirees - Fact Sheet: The Affordable Care Act’s Early Retiree Reinsurance Program
Federal Register, Vol. 75, No. 86: 45 - Interim Final Rule for Early Retiree Reinsurance Program (May 5, 2010)
NCSL Fact Sheets on Health Reform - Early Retiree Reinsurance Program
HealthCare POV blog - Health Care Reform - Early Retiree Reinsurance Program
McDermott, Will and Emery Newsletter - Health Care Reform - Early Retiree Reinsurance Program

Private Prison Firm Exploiting Broken Immigration System

Immigration Policy Center - US Border Enforcement Prioritizes Non-Violent Migrants Over Dangerous Criminals
Immigration Policy Center - New Data on Federal Court Prosecutions Reveal Non-Violent Immigration Prosecutions Up
Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse - Immigration Prosecutions at Record Levels in FY 2009
Immigration Policy Center -  Throwing Good Money After Bad: Immigration Enforcement Without Immigration Reform Doesn't Work
University of California, Berkeley Law School Warren Institute on Race, Ethnicity and Diversity - Assembly-Line Justice: A Review of Operation Streamline
Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy — Are Florida’s Private Prisons Keeping Their Promise
Private Corrections Institute — Quick Facts About Prison Privatization
Private Corrections Institute — Report on Prison Privatization Plagued with Conflicts of Interest, Faulty Data, Political Connections
Progressive States Network - Privatization During an Economic Downturn: Still Inefficient and Problematic
OneAmerica - Voices from Detention: A Report on Human Rights Violations at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma Washington
AFSCME - Prison Privatization Resources


The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:

Nathan Newman, Executive Director
Nora Ranney, Legislative Director
Marisol Thomer, Outreach Director
Fabiola Carrion, Broadband and Green Jobs Policy Specialist
Cristina Francisco-McGuire, Election Reform Policy Specialist
Tim Judson, Workers' Rights Policy Specialist
Enzo Pastore, Health Care Policy Specialist
Suman Raghunathan, Immigration Policy Specialist
Altaf Rahamatulla, Tax and Budget Policy Specialist
Julie Bero, Outreach and Administrative Specialist
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Charles Monaco, Press and New Media Specialist

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